100 Years of Holiness
Holiness Today – formerly known as Herald of Holiness – is celebrating 100 years of existence as a periodical. I’m learning from the past and thinking about the future as I read old issues.
Northwest Nazarene University – which is also celebrating its 100 year birthday – is hosting a series of blog essays on the earliest issues of the magazine. I decided to write about issue # 10, which the denomination published in June of that inaugural year, 1912.
The earliest editions of Herald of Holiness / Holiness Today had the subtitle, “Official Organ of the Pentecostal Church of the Nazarene.” It would not be until 1919 that “Pentecostal” would be deleted from the denomination’s name. Seeing the subtitle on the early editions reminds me of my denomination’s links with present-day Pentecostalism.
To get some perspective of what would have been occurring when issue #10 was published, I looked to see what other events occurred 100 years ago in June. I found that the first minimum wage law in the U.S. was enacted (in Massachusetts). The first parachute jump from an airplane occurred in June 2012. One of the greatest pitchers in baseball history, Christy Mathewson won his 300th game. And Pope Pius X reigned in Rome.
The Church of the Nazarene was only four years old in 1912. And it wasn’t very big. It consisted mainly of disparate groups and churches joining under the banner of holiness. The fledgling denomination was trying to find itself in a new age.
The early editions of Holiness Today/Herald of Holiness are what you would expect from a young periodical. The periodical offers short sermons, quotations, reports from churches, lessons, advertisements, and general remarks. Interspersed is cultural commentary, some of which we today would think odd.
Phineas F. Bresee
The June 1912 edition has two brief articles from Phineas F. Bresee, widely regarded as the leading figure in the founding of the Church of the Nazarene.
One article is portions of a sermon he called, “The Flavor.” It took as its text Acts 4:31: “And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together, and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness.”
Bresee encourages his readers/hearers to be filled with the Holy Spirit and live passionate and bold lives. “One thing is a necessity,” he says, “and that one thing is absolutely necessary – God manifest in the midst.”
All agencies and institutions are inadequate, says Bresee, if God’s power is not manifest in them. “A jeweled cup, without the water, will leave the thirsty traveler to perish.” For “God can use an earthen vessel to refresh the earth and glorify his name.”
The sermon ends with a plea and hyperbole: “Let every church get close together and pray until each individual receives the Holy Ghost in fresh and mighty anointing, and it will settle all questions and assure all victories.”
The second article by Bresee is really a sermon outline. He calls the sermon, “Golden Text,” and the biblical passage it explores is Matthew 5:17. Jesus is quoted as saying, “I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.”
In three short paragraphs, Bresee argues that God had become incarnate for the purpose of salvation. “The eternal God of love and power has undertaken for us, [and that] bodes to us untold possibilities of good.”
The law Jesus comes to fulfill, says Bresee, is the moral law. And in a line I especially like, he says, in Christ “the air of the moral universe [is] made clear and luminous.”
As I’ve been reading this issue and others of the Herald of Holiness, I admit I’ve not always been happy with everything I’ve encountered. Part of my unhappiness stems from what seem to me naïve or even prejudiced statements. I remind myself that those days were different. But I still don’t like the anti-Catholic, anti-Methodist, or anti-government rhetoric I sometimes find.
And I admit the theology of some contributors is, in my view, rather weak. Again, I remind myself that the theological concerns of that time don’t match exactly concerns we have today. And I must remember that the Herald of Holiness in 1912 and Holiness Today one hundred years later is written for laity and not trained theologians.
But I do think the heart of Bresee’s sermons remain important today. Like Bresee, I believe we must seek God with boldness and fervor. We must open our hearts to respond to God in our midst. Doing so will not, as Bresee said hyperbolically, “settle all questions and assure all victories.” But it will help us find more answers that are adequate and work toward victory.
And I think we would be wise to affirm Bresee’s message that God’s purpose is salvation. Because of God’s love and power made manifest in Christ, we can see more clearly “the air” of God’s moral universe. And we can join with God to make actual, as Bresee put it, “untold possibilities of good.”
Congrats, Holiness Today, on 100 years as a periodical. Here’s to another – and perhaps even better – century of preaching holiness!